Dressed in oversized, hand-me-down jerseys and shorts, this under-8 boys team, made up of mostly orphans and underprivileged kids, proudly represented St Catherine of Siena School and Orphanage in an inter-school football tournament at Azad Maidan yesterday
While most play to win, others win just by playing. A case in point is the boys from St Catherine of Siena School and Orphanage in Bandra, who played in the under-8 category of the inter-school football tournament organised by Mumbai Schools Sports Association (MSSA) yesterday.
The young boys made for a heartwarming picture at their play-off against St Mary’s SSC (Mazgaon), held at Azad Maidan. Their unambiguous defeat in the match they lost 0-10 seemed to matter little to them.
Despite losing by 10 goals, the boys made for a heartwarming picture at their play-off against St Mary’s SSC yesterday. Pics/Shadab Khan
Their jerseys, shorts, socks and shoes mostly hand-me-downs were all several sizes too big, some of the shorts touching their ankles.
The little boys had to keep pulling their shorts up throughout the match, but kept playing. Pics/Shadab Khan
All through the match, the troopers were seen struggling with their oversized gear, pulling up the shorts as they kept sliding down. And yet, their spirits seemed buoyant because the simple act of playing a competitive match and representing their school translated to a victory for them.
The boys in action
St Catherine coach Gavin Vandrine explained that the team is chiefly constituted by orphans, kids abandoned by their parents, or kids of destitute single parents who live in shanties and cannot support their children.
St Catherine coach Gavin Vandrine, Physical education teacher Alister Fernandes and Patricia Furtado
The children live in their hostel in Bandra, and meet their relatives during vacations. The orphanage is represented by three teams in the MSSA level one each in the U-12, U-10 and U-8 categories. Explaining the oversized shorts, physical education teacher Alister Fernandes said, “For us, it is more important that these children get food on a daily basis.
There are people who come and sponsor kits for the U-12 team, and we use that for all the three teams, as we cannot afford to have a separate kit for each team. But these kids are so cooperative that they don’t complain at all. They are content with whatever they have.”
Vandrine added, “People who donate the clothes don’t know the age or the height of these kids. They give kits that include T-shirts, jerseys and shoes of large size. This size only fits the boys of our U-12 team. We pass on the shoes for the U-12 kids to the U-8 boys.
One kit is common for all these boys. Of course, we wish that somebody would come forward and give them separate clothes, as per their age and height. But for now, we cannot do much, but let them play. We are aware that it is difficult to move around and play wearing bigger shoe sizes and jerseys, but we too are helpless beyond a point.”
'Want to become a cop, make my mother proud'
Three years ago, the team’s striker Sagar Mohite was roaming the city’s bylanes near Metro Cinema. He used to frequent Azad Maidan to see others play football, but had no inkling that he would soon be having a turn at kicking the ball himself at the grounds, in a few years.
Sagar (in red) and Shankar
“My mother stays on the footpath next to Azad Maidan. I love staying in the hostel as all my basic necessities, like food and clothing are taken care of. I miss my mother and homecooked food. I want to become a police officer some day and make her proud,” said seven-year-old Sagar, who started playing football two years ago at the Soparitalao grounds in Bandra.
Hearing about the match, Sagar’s mother Meena rushed to the venue to see her son in action. “It’s such a big thing for me to see my son play. I could never have given him the life that the school is giving him, so it’s better that he stay in the hostel.”
This is seven-year-old goalie Shankar Rai’s first year in the school team. His mother Rajkumari earns a living doing odd jobs, and stays in a chawl near Four Bungalows. “I love playing football. We didn’t play our best today. But I am sure that if we work hard, we can also play like the other teams in the tournament. I miss the ladoos, chaklis and karanji that my mother makes during Diwali with the money that she keeps aside for me,” said Shankar, a Std I student.
The kids get to watch television only during weekends, and Salman Khan is a big hit. “Most of us in the team love watching Salman Khan films. He is our favourite hero. The last movie we saw was Bodyguard,” said Sagar.
Patricia Furtado, a former international hockey player, is like a mother to the boys. She trains them and feeds them every day. “For me, money is not important. But the time spent with them gives me immense joy. They all call me mom and I feel proud when they achieve something. It’s my humble request to everybody to come and spend some time with them.”
The school only has provisions for classes till Std IV, after which the principal arranges for the students’ admission in other schools. Apart from their daily practice sessions, the kids do not get to go out much. Their food and clothing is dependent on donations from well-wishers.